Brian Hemmings winced at the clipped tone and, not for the first time, wondered if he dared tear out the fire in his study and put in central heating inside. Energy efficient, cleaner energy, and absolutely no way heads could appear in it while you were trying to work. It was hard to argue with advantages like that.
"Professor McGonagall," he greeted, trying to keep the tense note out of his voice. "How may I help you? Not another student attacked by wild beasts I hope?"
"No claims today, Mr Hemmings." She smiled at him, a thin little smile that Brian had learned to dread. "We just with to add some extra details to Hogwarts' policy with you."
The hapless insurance salesman squirmed. "If you will recall, Professor McGonagall, last time we spoke I told you we wished to cancel your policy. The amount of issues the school has – it's simply too high-risk for us..."
"And as I told you, Mr Hemmings, if you wish to cancel our policy you need to give us proper notification in writing," McGonagall returned calmly.
"If we could send you a letter the normal way!"
"Unfortunately, Royal Mail does not usually deliver to Hogwarts, it is true," she admitted. "However, I believe we explained to you the proper way of communicating by owl, and where to obtain them, so you can hardly claim you have no way to contact us."
"None of the owls we send you ever come back, and you say you never receive any of our messages," Brian protested.
"Mr Hemmings, we can hardly be blamed if you buy sub-standard birds," McGonagall said sternly, although her hand brushed her cheek. For a moment, even through the flames, Brian fancied he could see a feather stuck there. "In any case, the point is that as we do still have a policy with you at present, we would like to add some details to it."
Brian sagged a little, accepting the inevitable defeat. "It'll send your premiums up," he said sulkily.
"It usually does," she agreed briskly, "but it's nothing too extensive this time. Just a few life insurance policies."
"Oh, no, no..." Already Brian was shaking his head. "I'm not falling for that one again. The last one you took out life insurance on was over a hundred years old!"
"And we agreed that he would not be covered for pre-existing conditions. And I'm sure you will agree, the sad event of his death had nothing to do with his age," McGonagall said, her voice turning cool.
"He was murdered, as I recall. By the man who is your current headmaster," he said resentfully.
"Believe me, we have ensured that Severus Snape has not benefitted from Dumbledore's death." There was a definite cold note in her voice now. People usually did get like that when discussing life insurance policies that had needed to be claimed on. "He was not a beneficiary. We did not break the terms of the policy."
"The letter of it maybe, but the spirit..."
"Mr Hemmings, we are straying from the point!" McGonagall said sharply. "The death of Albus Dumbledore is not what I wished to discuss today. As for Professor Snape, as I have previously indicated, if your company would agree to cover all members of Hogwarts' staff with an 'unexpectedly turning evil' policy..."
"We don't offer it," Brian said hurriedly, "and we have no plans to." God knew, some of the stories that came out of that school, it would bankrupt them within a month if they tried it.
It already came close enough to that at times.
"Pity," McGonagall sniffed. "In any case, Mr Hemmings, you are nothing to worry about. It is only three students I wish you to install today, all quite young."
"And what have they got?" he asked suspiciously. "Cancer? Allergy to breathing? There must be something!"
"I am pleased to tell you that they are all quite healthy, Mr Hemmings," McGonagall said dryly. "The boys are simply the best Quidditch players of their year, and the girl unusually gifted, that is all. We are investing enough into them that it seemed expedient to protect our investment."
It seemed innocent, but Brian had been dealing with Hogwarts long enough not to trust 'innocent' quite so much anymore. "You do realise they won't be covered for pre-existing conditions?"
"As usual," she agreed with a nod. "The names are Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley, if you would like to note them."
Brian took them down, and tried to ignore the creeping feeling of dread as he did so. It didn't matter how harmless they seemed, all of these little policies seemed to come back to haunt them sooner or later.
It had seemed such a good idea at first. Oh, he'd been shocked the first time his daughter, Evie, turned her hamster into a pony, and then when his wife took him aside to explain the real reason they never heard from her family, but when the professor turned up at the door to explain about the magical school Evie would need to go to, everything had just seemed to fall into place in Brian's mind. An entire world that had never heard of insurance before? A school full of vulnerable children doing hazardous activities, all uninsured? It was just the find a tiny struggling insurance firm needed, and he'd made sure that when the professor left, she did so with his business card.
He'd been delighted when she contacted him within a week to arrange a policy. Certainly, they didn't seem to pay in money any normal place would recognise, but there were very few places that could afford to turn down pure gold. He'd never expected it to be so easy.
He hadn't realised that it would be the bit that came afterwards that would be hard.
Three-headed dogs kept among the students. Children purposely sent into woods filled with monsters as a punishment. Strange soul-sucking ghost things which were apparently brought into the school to keep away evil things. They'd never heard of risk assessments, and sometimes he wondered if they'd heard of common sense. He'd never thought he'd find himself longing for the days when discovering you were insuring a nightmare school just meant it was one where a teacher might occasionally throw a blackboard rubber at a child's head.
"By the way," McGonagall added, so casually that a chill ran down Brian's back, "is the school insured against acts of war?"
It was a question that nearly made him drop his pen in sudden panic. "What did you do, declare war on Germany?" he demanded. "You did, didn't you?"
"Don't be silly, Mr Hemmings. When did a school ever declare war on anywhere?" she asked with a sigh. "One of our Board of Directors brought it up was all. Said she didn't think it was usually included. Is it?"
"Well, not as standard..." Brian agreed cautiously.
"Add it," McGonagall said at once, without hesitation. She smiled. "Better to be safe than sorry, don't you think?"
Brian opened his mouth as though to protest, and then closed it again. Hogwarts might be terribly good at springing things on him, but even they couldn't hide a war after all. Surely no-one could hide that.